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Could switched reluctance motors be "the LEDs of Motors"?

At Slipstream, our researchers keep an eye out for emerging technologies that might have a similar impact on the very ways we think about buildings. For decades, we’ve heard industry folks refer to switched reluctance motors as “the LED of motors” for the way they might improve the efficiency of entire systems—if only the tech became feasible. The concept for SRMs has been around since at least the 1970s, but they’ve never been practical to produce at scale.

Today, companies like Turntide Motors believe their product can address our energy crisis with as an energy conservation measure. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric motor‐driven systems account for 68% of the total electricity used in manufacturing, driving energy-intensive processes such as refrigeration, pumps and facility HVAC systems. If we could conserve that energy with a better—and more sustainable—type of motor, it certainly would be a breakthrough akin to LEDs. But is it feasible?

At Slipstream, we love to evaluate emerging technologies based on their practical applications. Recently, we began a study for ComEd Emerging Technologies to evaluate the benefits and potential barriers to using SRMs in lieu of traditional motors for commercial buildings and rooftop HVAC units. Our includes a regression analysis of pre– and post-installation energy consumption for both a heating season and a cooling season. If this technology is to be a worthy alternative, we need to be sure it saves energy year-round.

Although our study doesn't specifically address benefits beyond energy consumption, as researchers we can't help but get excited about other potential benefits of SRMs. For instance, a shift to more-efficient motors might have a positive effect on a building’s other signals and systems. Since motor-driven systems account for so much electricity use, especially in commercial buildings, SRMs could work together to help a building modulate its demand on the grid. As our research around grid-interactive buildings has shown, maximizing flexibility is one of the best ways that buildings can ease their impact on the grid and consume less energy overall.

The results of our study will be available later this year. Until then, read more about our research in emerging technologies here, or find more information about the SRM Field Evaluation on the ComEd Emerging Technologies website.